Reliving familiar frights can often make for a less-than-exciting horror experience. But with the remake of Resident Evil 2, Capcom shows respect for the original while also going to great lengths to give the macabre atmosphere and tense gameplay a noticeable upgrade. In doing so, this revamp of the classic survival horror game shows that the series can still offer a terrifying experience like no other.
You once again play as either Leon Kennedy or Claire Redfield. A viral outbreak has unleashed hordes of zombies and other grotesque monsters upon Raccoon City, leading to a series of dangerous and nightmare-inducing encounters for the two characters. While both protagonists' storylines have similar plots and take place in the same locations, there are different supporting characters and unique challenges in each that set the two playthroughs apart.
In traditional Resident Evil fashion, you're tasked with surviving through the night and overcoming the nightmarish creatures and devious puzzles found throughout the infested streets of the city, the tight, dimly lit halls of the Police Station, and in the subterranean passages below. RE2 is a great mix of the understated survivalist approach from the original games and the tactile, reflex-oriented gameplay from more recent entries. It's very much a game about escalation; as your resources dwindle and the monsters become fearsome and more elaborate, the pressure is always mounting as the story progresses, and each moment feels just a bit more desperate than the last. Even the smallest of victories can feel like major wins in RE2, and you'll often find yourself onto the next struggle before you know it.
While those who played the original game will enter with an idea of what's to come, the remake does a lot to refresh certain encounters and locations. Though many locales and their layouts are similar--save for the addition of a brand-new area and a new monster to deal with--the events therein are new. Jump scares don't trigger when you expect them to, or a room that once spelled certain doom in your head is now a safe haven--but then the question arises: if this room is safe, which room is the real dangerous one?
Early Resident Evil games have a reputation for being melodramatic, often unintentionally, but the RE2 remake a more serious tone that makes for a more evocative story. While there is still the undercurrent of the hokey tone from the classics, with the characters cutting the tension with humor when appropriate, the remake's narrative is far more convincing, propped up by some impressive writing and strong performances that help convey urgency and despair. This is especially evident during the more quiet moments, when the protagonists will try to psych themselves up for what's to come. Even minor characters are given additional substance in the remake, with poignant moments given to the doomed police lieutenant Marvin Branagh and gun shop owner Robert Kendo.
Both Claire and Leon have two different versions of the campaign, and after finishing the first run for one, you'll be prompted to start a follow-up with the other. Called Second Scenarios, they allow you to see the larger story from a different perspective. Both scenarios are totally isolated from another, and choices therein won't impact the other, but what makes these second runs worthwhile are the different encounters and sub-plots that don't occur in the first. It's a very interesting way to experience the narrative, and with four versions of the campaigns between the two leads--with the first two averaging 12-15 hours--you constantly uncover new details and events that weren't present in the previous playthroughs.
Resident Evil 2's more serious tone is further enhanced by the renewed, fantastically atmospheric presentation, which gives familiar details from the classic game more of a pronounced look and feel. Moving away from the static camera angles of the original, everything has been redesigned with over-the-shoulder gameplay in mind, giving more of a palpable and invasive sense of dread when exploring. This is heightened even more by the impeccable audio and visual design of the game, creating an eerie, isolating vibe throughout. In a number of cases, you'll only have the illumination of your flashlight as you walk the dark hallways of the bloody and ruined police station, with the ambient rain and distant monster sounds ramping up the tension. You rarely feel safe in RE2, even when you actually are.
The remake's impressive level of detail is consistently noticeable, but especially so during gorey moments. These gruesome encounters channel the same macabre and staccato approach from the classics, but are now honed through the visual luster of modern rendering and animation. As the zombies are the one constant threat throughout, you quickly become accustomed to seeing flesh chip away as you fire off pistol shots, along with watching the undead torn in half by well-placed shotgun blasts. Though RE2 easily proves to be the goriest game of the series, it never comes off as excessive, and the grizzly details all serve to highlight the grim circumstances of the desperate situation.
Resident Evil 2's more serious tone is further enhanced by the renewed, fantastically atmospheric presentation...
At the beginning, your meager selection of weapons doesn't seem like a match for the game's most intimidating horrors, but there are means available that can give you the upper hand in a lopsided fight. In addition to dismembering enemies with well-aimed shots hindering zombies' speed and offense, you can barricade certain windows to block ravenous undead from entering from outside. While many of these options are simply a temporary solution to a long-term problem, which can make it seem like they're not all that worth taking advantage of, they are helpful in a pinch.
While you will no doubt settle into tactics that work well, RE2 throws in some fresh challenges. In one of the game's more tense encounters, you cross paths with the Tyrant, a hulking presence whose footsteps echo throughout the environment. Though it was a serious foe shown in small doses in the original, this imposing force of nature is now more of a persistent threat that actively stalks you during key periods in the story. Simply ducking into another room isn't enough, as it'll quickly follow you in to keep the chase going--similar to the RE3's Nemesis in that regard. If you manage to create enough distance and it loses line of sight, it'll disengage, but will remain lurking throughout the halls. With this dynamic, the Tyrant also makes the common foes you've gotten a handle of become genuine threats once again. As you find yourself trying to stay focused on the stalking figure, it's all too easy to round a corner and run into a group of zombies.
Though the Tyrant offers a nerve-wracking surprise during some of these key moments, which makes the feeling of getting the best of it all the more satisfying, there are other times when it can disrupt Resident Evil 2's pacing. This is especially frustrating when you're simply trying to acquire an item or solve a puzzle in a room that the Tyrant and zombies frequent. What should be tense encounters can sometimes become annoying exercises in trying to lure it away, and in some cases it comes off like you're taking advantage of the Tyrant's rather limited AI to do just that. The Tyrant can overstay its welcome, but in most cases, its presence is a constant reminder of the looming threat throughout the game.
While RE2 often keeps things serious, it's not all doom and gloom. In addition to occasional references that break the tension, there's also a suite of unlockable content available to the delight of RE fans, including the classic RE2 outfits for both Leon and Claire. After completing the campaign for both characters, you'll unlock a set of bonus modes starring fan-favorites Hunk and Tofu, the later of which is a sentient knife-wielding block of coagulated soy. Both of these extra modes take you on timed gauntlets battling through many intense encounters, with Tofu's mode being the most difficult scenario in the entire game. They also allow for a chance to cut loose against hordes of monsters without the worry of the larger survival-horror mechanics during the main game.
Resident Evil 2 is not only a stellar remake of the original, but it's also simply a strong horror game that delivers anxiety-inducing and grotesque situations, topping some of the series' finest entries. But above all, the remake is an impressive game for the fact that it goes all-in on the pure survival horror experience, confidently embracing its horrifying tone and rarely letting up until the story's conclusion. Though Resident Evil 2 has its roots firmly in the past, it reworks the familiar horrors into something that feels brand new and all its own.